Seasons Within Seasons

DSC_5640_Fava Beans_Arthur KochBelieve it or not, for most of my life I had no idea that vegetables and fruits had a “season.” Sure, I knew that there was a harvest season; I’m from Nebraska, the land of cornfields. But due to the readily available supply of mostly any fruit or vegetable at the grocery store, I really had no idea that produce tasted better during a certain time of the year.

I never remember my parents attempting to buy produce in season. If it was there and we wanted it, we put it in the cart. I have a strong feeling this led to some of my picky eating habits. One too many sour strawberries made me think, “I don’t like berries.” One too many slimy (and likely old) slices of tomato on a fast food sandwich made me change my order to, “No tomato.”

When I moved out on my own and began my own grocery shopping, I remember occasionally not being able to find something I was craving. Then I began working at our local farmer’s market and my eyes were opened to the world of seasonal fruits and veggies. It all started to make sense.

I suddenly realized, this is why people make soup and chili in the fall (aside from the fact that it is warm and delicious paired with the “chilly” weather); they are using vegetables that are late in the season, which tend to have less flavor and more water (making them perfect for chili). This is why people preserved their favorites to eat during the cold months, when truly fresh produce was scarce.

I also recently discovered that there aren’t just “in season” and “out of season” times for fruits and vegetables, but there are even more nuanced picking times. A fascinating article in the New York Times explained that there are really seasons within seasons for vegetables and fruits. The first example in the article was the way fava beans make the best pureed soup late in the season when they are super starchy. If you attempt the same pureed soup earlier in the season, it will come out gritty and not at all appetizing.

In the past few years I’ve started re-trying nutritious foods that I didn’t care for as a child.  One of the foods I revisited was tomatoes. I started out by dicing them very small and adding them on top of salads in the summer. This summer I tried something that I used to find repulsive — eating raw slices of tomatoes. Mid-season, or around this very time, tomatoes are both juicy and refreshingly sweet. I simply sliced the tomato, sprinkled on some salt, and I could not believe the flavor! The texture is also crisp enough to hold up on its own, making a perfect summer snack.

It turns out my new friend, the tomato, also has its own “micro-season.” Early in the season, when the vegetables are still green, they are best used for pickling or frying, due to their acidity and firm structure. During the mid-season they are delightful as is! Later in the season, closer to fall, tomatoes’ watery texture makes them best for sauces.

Cooking with ingredients “in season” is great, but with more practice (and research), we can learn about how each fruit and vegetable works within the seasons. I’ve realized that I have so much more to learn about the array of food God has made for us to enjoy. I’ve only just scratched the surface of experimenting with produce, and I can’t wait to learn more!

Do you cook seasonally?

Do you can or preserve fruits and vegetables?

Sources: New York Times, “To Every Season, Another Season,” “Fruits and Veggies Matter More,” Eat Seasonally

Originally posted 2013-09-03 10:27:52.

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